A recent opinion piece by Kirk Goldsberry, visiting scholar at Harvard University, gained a good deal of attention because it advocated for a return of a geography department to that august institution. Sensors & Systems (S&S) special correspondent Matteo Luccio spoke with Goldsberry about his background, about the need to reveal spatial patterns, and about the importance of geography.
S&S: Did you like to look at maps when you were a child? What’s the first map you remember?
Goldsberry: The first map I remember looking at was the Rand McNally road atlas in the back seat of the family car. I think we were driving through Belzoni, Mississippi. I remember studying its pages to figure out where we were on those lost highways and where we were going and what we were going to pass through next and trying to understand how these maps would unlock the secrets of the world. I think that many Americans primarily associate maps with highways and road trips, and I guess I started that way too. Nowadays, kids just play Candy Crush Saga in the back seat and people don’t even go to Belzoni.
S&S: Why did you decide to study geography?
Goldsberry: I was an undergraduate meteorology major at Penn State and was required to take some geography courses. I took a landforms class with Cindy Brewer and that turned me on to geography and I never looked back. Cindy had these hauntingly gorgeous slides of landscapes and she had such a conversational style in the lecture hall—it blew me away, and she became my favorite professor at Penn State. I signed up for all of her classes, and she teaches the best cartography classes in America. Years later, as a professor of cartography myself at Michigan State University, I was trying to copy her style, but was never quite as good. So, the decision was accidental in the sense that I stumbled into a geography course as a requirement for my original major at my university.